The fundamental biblical and rabbinic principle for the application of justice is lex talionis or "measure for measure" (מדה כנגד מדה). The balance represented in this formulation is a requirement for human judicial proceedings. Beyond this, it serves in early rabbinic texts as the basis for both singular statements and complex literary structures that demonstrate that God Himself acts according to the principle. Retribution for enemies is כנגד מדה מדה and reward for those who are obedient is likewise measure for measure. Even so, while the principle is explicitly cited with regard to God's actions, the actual מדה כנגד מדה punishments and rewards that the rabbis discovered in the biblical text are measure for measure in kind but not in intensity. There is frequently a greater degree of punishment than the crime objectively warranted for sins of offenders who are enemies of God and His people. On the other hand, measure-for-measure rewards for those who are beloved of God also match in kind but, in fact, are greatly increased over the "just desert." The very process of constructing the complex literary schemata, spanning biblical history, taught a profoundly necessary lesson about faithfulness and continuity in God's dealing with His people. This background illuminates the instances in which this expression is used in the Gospels.

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